Guerrilla Car Buying

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It’s never been easier to buy a new car; the harder part is not paying too much for it. “Easy” financing obscures how much you’re really paying, by spreading out the paying. Bundling of desirable options with options you may not want – but are pushed into buying in order to get the options you want.

Those are two of the new pressures adding to your peril.   

Plus the stand-by perils: Your old car got totaled in a wreck and you need something new, now. You’ve become emotionally attached.

Or your SO has.

Here are some strategies you can use to avoid those new car paid-too-much blues:

Rent it before you buy it –

It’s odd how little time we spend with major purchases before we commit to paying for them – for years to come. Cars are just one example. We walk around the lot, look at different colors, listen to the salesman talk about the features – and maybe take a brief test drive. Then we drive it home.

A longer test drive – prior to purchase – would be a lot more helpful in terms of discovering whether the seats kill your back after a couple of hours behind the wheel. Or that the ride really is too firm (or soft). These are things you don’t usually grok until you’ve lived with a car for awhile. As opposed to an hour or so.

So, rent the thing for a weekend.

While not all makes/models are available on the rental car circuit, many are – especially popular/mass-market models. Trucks and luxury cars are available, too – and it’s worth your time (and the small-in-context cost) to find where to rent them. Then go ahead and rent what you’re thinking about buying – and see how it suits. Without the pressure  – or the long-term consequences.

If you don’t like the thing, return it and try another.

That’s something you can’t do after you bought the thing. Not, at any rate, without paying a lot more than what it would have cost you for a weekend rental.

Buy a Demo –

You’ve probably scored a great deal on a a sofa or appliance that’s out of the box, on display – what’s often called a floor model. These are just as new as the unboxed items, but they sell for substantially less because someone else sat on them or opened and closed the door, left fingerprints, etc.

Dealer demo cars are the same thing on wheels.

It’s a brand-new car, just like the others on the lot. But the plastic is off the seats, maybe a couple hundred miles on the clock. But it’s never been titled and the new car warranty still applies. The difference is what you’ll pay – which will be a lot less than for a car with the plastic still on the seats.

There is almost no downside to this, except for not being the first person to sit on the seats, without the plastic wrap. And – in addition to the deal – some not-small additional perks. For example, the Demo car – having been driven – won’t have any “little things” wrong with it that you will have to deal with. New cars may be warranted but that doesn’t mean they are perfection. And while you won’t have to pay for the fix, if it’s new and warranted, the cost of the hassle will still be yours. The Demo car will be sorted out and ready to roll – on the road, not back onto the dealer’s lift.

Also, you stand a very good chance of getting the dealer to “toss in” an extended warranty – one that continues to cover major components such as the engine and transmission after the factory coverage ends – to assuage your fears (play this up; be Shakespearean) of a car that has “miles” on it.

Even if it’s only a few hundred miles.

Look for a Leftover –

A new car can still be a new car even if it’s not this year’s new car. Sometimes, inventory doesn’t move before the calendar rolls over. When that happens, the dealer gets desperate. Because even though the car is still as new on January 1 as it was on December 31, it’s all of a sudden last year’s model. It just lost about 20 percent of its value.

If the current year’s model has been updated, all the better – for you. Most people will want the re-styled/updated model, not “last year’s” model.  

But even if not, you will still score.

As an example, a good friend of mine bought a brand-new and loaded 2017 Fiat 500 turbo in early 2018. The car stickered for $24,000 and change. She drove it home for about $16,000 – less than the cost of a 2018 model base trim 500 (no turbo). In her case, the score was a double score, because Fiat stopped selling the turbo model for 2018 (you have to buy the gaudy – and loud – Abarth 500 to get the turbo’d engine).

Sometimes, these cars will be advertised. Better yet, walk the lot – and look for the leftovers. They’ll be easy to find; just read the window sticker. If it’s last year’s model, you are in luck.

Order the car you want – 

Dealers want you to buy from their inventory – the cars they have on the lot. The reason for that is two-fold. First, they are paying carrying costs on every car they have on the lot until those cars find buyers. Second, dealers tend to order the cars which make them the most profit – which means cars loaded with options which you may not want. If you’ve been car shopping lately, you’ve probably already found this out. It can be hard to find a base trim car – or one with a manual transmission, even when it’s nominally available. 

In which case, order the car equipped the way you want it.

The dealer won’t like it and may try to pressure you to buy off the lot. If he does, find another dealer. Or, let the pressure work for you. Tell him that you really want the manual transmission – or the car without the sunroof and the optional leather interior – but you might settle for one with those features . . . if the price is in line with what you’re looking for.

Which brings us to the most important rule of car shopping: As long as you still hold the cash and haven’t signed anything, you hold all the cards. Let that work for you – and you’ll win the game every time.

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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16 COMMENTS

  1. one of the best ways to get a del on a used car is talk to all your friends, and mention that when they go to trade in their car, you might want to buy it at whatever pric the stealership offers them as a trade in.

    some stealerships offer real high trade in values, and dont discount the sticker, and some stealerships discount the sticker and offer peanuts for the trade,

    I just bought a one owner 06 expedition , 90K miles, with every avail option, that the owner paid $49K for new, for $K.

  2. While I still feel the best value is in a ‘gently’ used but largely depreciated luxury model, if you are looking new, this is all great advice. My nephew is about to start his MBA. As an undergrad he did an internship at a car dealership. He quickly became a top salesman because he has the personality for it. And a large part of the car sales routine is psychology and working info out of you that is then used against you. But he also makes no bones about the fact that anyone who comes in there with a little negotiating skill and having researched what they want, what the right price should be, and what others are charging, will completely OWN HIM even on his best day. Eric is right when he says YOU have all the power. The dealers know this too and it keeps them up at night. Don’t bring a dollar bill to a gunfight, bring a nuke. An educated buyer with good negotiating skills is that nuke.

    Kudos to Eric for the sage advice. In fact don’t miss the point that this goes beyond just buying a car. To the point of being blue in the face I tell anyone and everyone that the most important skill you acn ever have in your life is the ability to negotiate. And good news, there are only about a million books, articles, YT videos and even ContEd courses on this topic. Dig in! You’ll thank me. Having good negotiating skills is like having a super power. And they’ll never even see you coming.

  3. Only problem with buying a Demo car is that no one knows (or will admit) to how its been treated since it fell off the back of the transport. I’ve driven by dealerships what send the lot boy out early in the morning to fire up all the demos and let them idle there for an hour or two. Shut them down, then restart and rewarm after lunch… VERY bad thing to do to any new car. Some would get that treatment for a few months…. then some poor sap buys it thinking, since its got no miles on it, its not been run. My sister bought a Mazda demo, a 626, some years back. It ALWAYS used oil. She had it back several times, they never did find out the cause…. my guess is they let the back lot attempt to find the problem, and since it never said anything, they said “we can’t find anything”. They eventually fobbed her off long enough the warranty ran out. I was convinced it had been left to idle for hours on end, keeping it warm for putative customers. Mom ended up with it, but she never drove much, so the oil consumption was not so onerous for her. Still, that demo was no deal. Not the only such bum deal I”ve known of.

  4. Back sometime during the last ice age, Chevy dealers would advertise a Brand New Pickup for something like $1795.00

    It was short bed, stepside, six cylinder, three on the tree, 2wd, and no radio – but they actually DID HAVE a few of them in stock!

  5. The only vehicle I ever bought even close to being new was a demonstrator pickup. I went shopping on Friday since I wanted to drive it a couple days.
    They were eager to have me take it and just leave my Silverado I wasn’t trading.

    It was a rare time cause it started in raining like it rarely did in west Tx. I picked up the wife and we went to see some friends. I got a little too far off the pavement turning around and got sucked into the deeper part full of water about 6 inches deep. My boots weren’t waterproof but I am so what the heck. Locking in the hubs commonly involves some unpleasantness.
    You know how when you test drive you won’t even get the drivers side shut at the dealership before somebody whisks it away to the wash bay. By the time I got out of that I allowed as they’d see me coming and somebody would open the door for me and that was the exact scenario that played out. The salesman observed I must already know the 4 WD works. Yep, you could see out the windshield whee the wipers had cleared the mud.

    I once had a dealer(part owner And salesman) tell me, and this shows my age I guess, he could sell me a special order vehicle cheaper than he could one off the lot since he knew he had a sale. Have times ever changed. Back then I knew every mechanic, salesman, owner and book-keeper and parts man(is that a hard top or a sedan?), a job often shared by a few people.

  6. I bought the last of 3 2013 Silverado’s off the dealer lot in south Houston back in late 13. No other dealer had the package I wanted (no package really) in the entire metro area for the color I wanted so pickings were slim. Just wanted leather seats and no goofy badge package like the TEXAS!!! Edition or the AllStar Edition with accompanying badge you have to take off. Anyways, there were two reds with identical packages and one pearl white. Between the two reds one had 30 miles on it, the second had 5000 miles on it. These trucks were already marked down to sell and I thought, man, I’ll take the 5000 if they cut a good chunk off the price. Who knows who drove that 5000 and how hard they mashed the pedal right? $1 per mile or even $.50 per mile seemed fair for a truck just taking up space. So I asked what they’d take off the high mileage one as the price for both was only differing by $50 before that just on sticker or something. Sales guy walks off to his boss to do the whole run around thing. Comes back, “We can take $300 off.” I laughed in his face and told him he was a joke. I ended up buying the lower mileage one as I was seeing the writing on the wall for trucks and you can’t beat the last year model of a certain truck vintage where most of the recalls and defects are fixed.

    • A coworker bought a Ford Escape that was 2 years old – never titled. Turned out it had been moved to the back lot way back when and forgotten about. They had rediscovered it a few days before he stopped by, and he got $8000 off and the full warranty.

      • I worked in my family’s car dealership(s) in SW Va from the age of 15 until my early 30’s. I did it all; wash pit, lube lift, parts with factory training, sales with factory training, etc. Fully involved and grew up in the business. Worked both sides; used and new, franchised dealership and also a used car lot out of a trailer. Front office, back office, shop, etc…… Did. Everything.

        I find it hard to believe that a car NEW, never-titled car would sit on the back row for 2 years and be “forgotten” about. Maybe not sold, but still on the books and almost 99% of the time, interest being paid on it…the Sales Manager ALWAYS knew it was there, and most certainly the Dealer Principal as well….ESPECIALLY after 2 years…

        “Forgotten” just don’t happen. Why ? …You might ask ?

        Floor Plan.

        You see, 99% of the dealerships out there partner with the banks in a deal where the banks provide the liquidity to obtain the inventory at a very low interest rate ( usually a point or two above interbank lending rates, might be higher now ) That’s how probably 99.9% of the car dealers can maintain multi-million inventories. They work with the banks.

        On a monthly basis, the bank sends a representative ( in my case, used to be my Dad’s golf buddy ) to check the inventory against their book to make sure the dealer hasn’t gotten “out of trust” with the bank. During this brief visit he walks the lot with a salesman, manager, secretary, whatever and does a quick check against on-lot inventory and what’s being financed in the books. If the car is not there that should be, they note this and will follow up afterward ( IE: Demos and loaners are out sometimes being used when the onsite visit is being made ) Many a time I had to turn in a demo I was driving and leave it at the lot so it could be accounted for on the next bank visit.

        Interest on the floor plan is the fuel that burns beneath the ass of the dealership and makes them offer-up that purple 4-door Hyundai without AC on the Front Row Special …Hood up, balloons and all !!! ..

        Watch the movie “Fargo” for an idea of how desperate a dealer principal can become when he gets out of trust with the local banks. Many a time dealers have sold cars off the lot, collected the money and used it to temporarily float the business without telling the banks….which is a fraud.

        I could see a used car that is company owned sitting on a back row somewhere…but in almost all cases…used cars are owned by the dealer. That’s why so many new car dealers don’t hold much used inventory anymore…and when you trade-in the sales manager is checking to see what your ride is currently bringing at the auction…not what Kelly Blue Book or even NADA books say…Auction price is a HUGE factor in determining trade-in value, and most people don’t know it.

        Hope this helps – 😉

  7. A local Toyota dealer actually advertises renting one of their new cars for weekend trips. Genius when you think about it. “Don’t drive your heap to the beach, rent our new car!” Great way to get someone to fall in love.

    Also, Toyota in the Southeast is really just one big dealer. If you walk in and say “I want this car with these options, ONLY, and in this color, I’ll buy it.” Amazing what they can find in just a few minutes. How about an ’06 Corolla, 5spd, air, cd player, crank windows, no cruise? Yes, it can be done. Because they usually advertise a loss leader like that and they have to be able to deliver.

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